Mark Dornford-May

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Mark Dornford-May
Born Mark Dornford-May
(1955-09-29) 29 September 1955 (age 59)
England, U.K.
Occupation theatre director and film director
Spouse(s) Pauline Malefane

Mark Dornford-May (born 29 September 1955) is a British-born South African theatre and film director.

Early life[edit]

Mark Dornford-May was born on his Grandfathers farm near Eastoft in Yorkshire. His paternal Grandfather was a miner on the Yorkshire coalfields. His Mother worked as a school teacher and his Father was Drama Adviser for Cheshire County Council and was awarded an MBE for services to theatre in the 1980s. Dornford-May is the eldest of three brothers.

Personal life[edit]

In 2002 he married South African actress and singer Pauline Malefane. Together they have three children. Dornford-May also has a daughter from his first marriage. In 2004 he became a permanent resident of South Africa and in 2007 he was officially inducted into the Sotho clan of his wife’s family.


After reading Drama at the Bristol University, Dornford-May was offered an Assistant Directorship with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He worked mainly with Terry Hands on the acclaimed productions of "Coriolanus" and "The Duchess of Malfi" as well as directing "The Invisible Man" and coordinating "The Plays Banned" by Television Season at the then RSC Workhouse Theatre. He then left the RSC to found The Playwrights Company at Bristol Old Vic, specialising in the creation of new work and supported and funded by Tom Stoppard. In 1981 he was appointed Artistic Director of Solent Peoples Theatre commissioning Peter Tersen’s, "We were all heros then", and Steve Gooch’s, "Fast One". He moved to Stoke on Trent to work at the Victoria Theatre with Peter Cheesman. The artistic emphasis placed on music and the skills of the actor were central to the work at Stoke and began to form the central focus of Dornford-May’s work. It is also at Stoke that his deep passionate commitment to theatre as a vehicle for social change began to become central to all his work. Together with Peter Cheesman he helped to oversee the rebuilding of the New Vic in Stoke.

Following Stoke, Dornford-May went into the training of actors for a number of years working at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and mainly at The Central School of Speech and Drama where he worked alongside Mark Wing Davey running the acting course.

In the mid-1990s Dornford-May formed Broomhill Opera. This company restored and revived Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End of London. The Music Hall had been derelict for many years but through Dornford-May the first phase of its restoration was undertaken allowing it to become a public space once more. Simon Callow, Sir Jonathan Miller, Rory Bremner, Harold Pinter and Sir John Gielgud all worked in the Music Hall once it was semi-restored.

In 2000, Dornford-May together with UK conductor Charles Hazlewood travelled to South Africa where they held auditions across the country, auditioning over 2000 individuals to form a lyric theatre company for the Spier Festival. Their theatre productions of The Mysteries – Yiimimangaliso, Carmen, The Snow Queen and Ibali looTsotsi - The Beggar's Opera, toured the world to sold out houses and great critical acclaim.

Dornford-May adapted the stage production of Carmen, to create the film U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, starring Pauline Malefane in the title role. The film garnered a number of awards, including the Golden Bear for Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival in 2005.

The company’s second feature film, Son of Man, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in the US in 2005.

In 2006, Dornford-May re-structured the theatre company as a charitable company and renamed it Isango Ensemble. Their first productions of The Magic Flute – Impempe Yomlingo and A Christmas Carol – iKrismas Kherol premiered at the Baxter Theatre, Cape Town, before going on to a sold-out run at the Young Vic Theatre. Both productions were awarded the Whatsonstage Theatre Goers Choice Award for Best Off-West End Production. The Magic Flute – Impempe Yomlingo transferred to the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End where it was awarded the Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival. The Magic Flute – Impempe Yomlingo continues to tour the world and has performed in London, Chichester and Canterbury in the UK, Dublin, Tokyo, Singapore, Johannesburg, Paris and Holland. In Paris the production had a sold-out run at the Chatelet du Theatre and was awarded the Globes de Cristal for Best Opera.

In 2007, Dornford-May and Isango Ensemble reworked The Mysteries – Yiimimangaliso which premiered at the Baxter Theatre, Cape Town, and had another critically acclaimed West End season at the Garrick Theatre, London.

From June 2009 to Jan 2010, Dornford-May oversaw the design and development of the Fugard Theatre, Cape Town. The theatre opened to great acclaim on 12 February 2010 with a performance of The Magic Flute – Impempe Yomlingo in front of guests including the Deputy President of South Africa. The Isango Ensemble company was the company in residence in 2010 and premiered two new productions, Aesop’s Fables, an adaptation of Peter Terson’s script, and The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Izigwili Ezidlakazelayo, a new version of which was written by Stephen Lowe for the company.


In November 2010 Dornford-May wrote an opinion piece for a South African newspaper[1] in which he deplored the 'White Face' of South African theatre and the lack of critics who could speak any African language. After the publication he suffered a backlash[citation needed] of critical press comment from the art establishment.

Later that month Dornford-May and his all-black South African acting company were thrown out of the Fugard Theatre after less than a year, amid claims of poor box office takings.

Following their eviction from the Fugard Theatre,[2] the Isango Ensemble company rebuilt itself under the patronage of Sir Ian McKellen;

“The Isango Ensemble is unique. I believe no other theatre group in the world so successfully brings old theatre classics into a modern, wholly African expression. The Isango Ensemble is explosive. Brimming with musical and acting talent, these young performers come from the poorer, disadvantaged townships of Cape Town. Performing on four continents, they have won numerous international awards, received critical acclaim, and overwhelmed their audience.”

Sir Ian McKellen, Actor and Patron of Isango Ensemble[citation needed].

and relaunched itself at an eightieth birthday party for Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu;

“... a superb performance. Thank you too for proving apartheid so abominably wrong. You have helped restore our faith in ourselves. Fantastic.”

—Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, October 2011[citation needed].

In 2012, the company premiered two new productions, La Boheme - Abanxaxhi, in a unique partnership with The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and Venus and Adonis - UVenus e Adonis. La Boheme then transferred to Hackney Empire, London and Venus and Adonis to Shakespeare's Globe. The Magic Flute - Impempe Yomlingo played in Berlin and Martinique.

In 2013, the company returned to Shakespeare's Globe and finished editing their new film "Noye's Fludde"

2014 saw the company tour the USA to universal critical acclaim with sellout performances and produced another feature film Breathe - Umphefumlo, which had its premiere at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival and has a special gala screening in South Africa in March 2015, hosted by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.



  1. ^ "Working on the white face of theatre". Cape Times. 18 November 2010. Retrieved 25 March 2013. 
  2. ^ "All-black SA acting company evicted from theatre - Arts - Mail & Guardian Online". Mail & Guardian Online. Retrieved 2012-04-12.

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